Aug. 18, 2001
TURLOCK - Every year at Cal's football training camp in Turlock, one of the highlights is the team meeting when head coach Tom Holmoe hands out scholarships to walk-on players. Cal prides itself of the success and quality of it's walk-on program, and among those who have received scholarships recently are placekicker Mark Jensen, wide receiver Sean Currin and linebacker Scott Fujita.
But this year, Holmoe announced at last night's meeting that only one scholarship was available. Just a single player would be able to have the honor in 2001. And this time, the award went to senior cornerback Adam Sugarman.
"Everyone just went crazy," said Sugarman. "That was the best part about it - how excited everyone was for me. It was the neatest thrill, especially because there's so many guys on the team who I thought were deserving of it also. There was only one given out. For coach to give it to me made me feel great."
For Sugarman, the scholarship comes at the start of his fifth year in the program. However, he said he doesn't necessarily see it as a reward for his hard work.
"Had it not happened, I would have had the greatest time here," Sugarman said. "It's not something I needed to justify my career."
When Sugarman was a senior at Acalanes High School in Lafayette, he envisioned himself more of a collegiate basketball star than football player and had some opportunities to play basketball at some smaller schools.
But Sugarman talked to his older brother, Andy, who was a staff assistant for the Bears football team at the time. Together, they figured Adam should try to walk on at Cal even though he had played just one year of quarterback in high school.
Everything seemed set until Steve Mariucci unexpectedly left his position as Cal head coach for the San Francisco 49ers.
"It was a little up in the air as to whether it was going to happen or not," said Sugarman, an American studies major who is in the process of applying to law school. "But Coach Holmoe kept the door open for me to do it."
Sugarman spent one season as a scout team quarterback, then took advantage of an opportunity to switch sides of the ball and learn the cornerback position.
"I had never played defense in my life," Sugarman said. "It was a chance to get on the field, and it worked out."
Two years ago, Sugarman got into his first game, seeing action at Oregon State in Corvallis. He ended up playing in four games in 1999. Last season, Sugarman was a key member of Cal's special teams and played in all 11 contests. He held for field goals and extra points against Utah and even saw a couple of plays at cornerback vs. Washington State.
"He's completely turned himself around as a football player compared to where he came in and where he is today," said defensive backs coach Randy Stewart. "He's faster, stronger and bigger. He's put himself into position where he can play and get on the field and be productive."
Said Sugarman: "Coach Stewart worked hard with me. He treated me like everyone else. I just got better and better at it."
When injuries kept several of Cal's cornerbacks out of spring practice, Sugarman took advantage of the chance to get extra repetitions and he ended up starting the spring game. Now that those players are healthy, he knows his job is to back them up, but also be prepared in case his turn is called.
"I understand my role it going to be," Sugarman said. "If something happens, I've got to be ready to go. I'm happy to see the guys back, too. I think those first four guys at corner are some of the best in the country. I don't mind playing behind them. I'm ready to go at anytime. That's my job."
A job he now performs as a scholarship player for the Bears.